Microbial pathogens induce neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease mice: protection by microglial regulation

Tal Ganz, Nina Fainstein, Amit Elad, Marva Lachish, Smadar Goldfarb, Ofira Einstein, Tamir Ben-Hur*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Neurodegeneration is considered the consequence of misfolded proteins’ deposition. Little is known about external environmental effects on the neurodegenerative process. Infectious agent-derived pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) activate microglia, key players in neurodegenerative diseases. We hypothesized that systemic microbial pathogens may accelerate neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and that microglia play a central role in this process. Methods: We examined the effect of an infectious environment and of microbial Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists on cortical neuronal loss and on microglial phenotype in wild type versus 5xFAD transgenic mice, carrying mutated genes associated with familial AD. Results: We examined the effect of a naturally bred environment on the neurodegenerative process. Earlier and accelerated cortical neuron loss occurred in 5xFAD mice housed in a natural (“dirty”) environment than in a specific-pathogen-free (SPF) environment, without increasing the burden of Amyloid deposits and microgliosis. Neuronal loss occurred in a microglia-rich cortical region but not in microglia-poor CA regions of the hippocampus. Environmental exposure had no effect on cortical neuron density in wild-type mice. To model the neurodegenerative process caused by the natural infectious environment, we injected systemically the bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a TLR4 agonist PAMP. LPS caused cortical neuronal death in 5xFAD, but not wt mice. We used the selective retinoic acid receptor α agonist Am580 to regulate microglial activation. In primary microglia isolated from 5xFAD mice, Am580 markedly attenuated TLR agonists-induced iNOS expression, without canceling their basic immune response. Intracerebroventricular delivery of Am580 in 5xFAD mice reduced significantly the fraction of (neurotoxic) iNOS + microglia and increased the fraction of (neuroprotective) TREM2 + microglia. Furthermore, intracerebroventricular delivery of Am580 prevented neurodegeneration induced by microbial TLR agonists. Conclusions: Exposure to systemic infections causes neurodegeneration in brain regions displaying amyloid pathology and high local microglia density. AD brains exhibit increased susceptibility to microbial PAMPs’ neurotoxicity, which accelerates neuronal death. Microglial modulation protects the brain from microbial TLR agonist PAMP-induced neurodegeneration.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number5
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Infection
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Microglia
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neuroinflammation
  • Pathogen associated molecular patterns
  • Retinoic acid receptor


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